Island Farewell, trained by Robin Smith and ridden by Kleintjie Badenhorst, epitomises, for me at any rate, all that is required of a Triple Crown winner.
Not only was she the first to wear Zimbabwe’s Triple Crown in 1983, I knew her personally, she looked the part, gave me one of the most anxious moments ever endured on a racecourse, but lived up to expectations – oh what joy.
Back in the day the stables at Borrowdale Park were occupied by Collen Nicholson, Jackie Booth, George Uren, Haaken Mordt, as well as Robin and Keith Chant. The Smith and Chant yards, back-to-back, were in a new block and in those good old days we all liked each other quite a lot (except on race days). We talked, watched and listened, and usually knew, more-or-less, what was afoot.
Dubbles Draper, Charles Purchase and Neil Bruss stabled their strings out of town, so were more difficult to keep tabs on. Penny Fisher had stables further out on the Borrowdale Road, and Major Jack Perry was close enough to walk his string to the course every morning – but you had to be up with the larks and out on the track at dawn to keep up with his first string.
Most of the trainers had some competitive horses, but it was evident that Island Farewell, by Jamaica, was as three-year-olds go, something rare.
Once she had collected the first two legs of the Triple Crown the speculation began – could she or couldn’t she see out the Derby distance? Robin withdrew from most of the chit-chat – the pressure was on.
Meanwhile, as full-time racing editor at The Herald, I had a secret agenda. This was before the digital age and in the print media photographs had to be sent out and set on metal. I was determined to have a picture of Island Farewell, wearing a crown, so I stuck one on a photograph and sent it to the block makers.
Everything was set up and ready to roll before the big day. Only trouble was that with racing on a Saturday the Sunday Mail, not The Herald, had first bite at the results. Big problem.
Kleintjie Badenhorst takes up the tale:
“In the year Island Farewell won, she also won two fillies Classics that fell between the three races of the Triple Crown.
“I remember that on the morning of the Derby Janet and I were very nervous – and we looked at the newspaper only to see Island Farewell with a crown on her head.
“This came as quite a shock as Janet had been to a fortune teller some three months earlier and was told there was something with a crown on its head, but the clairvoyant did not know what it was.
“Janet did not understand what she was saying so totally forgot about it. Until we saw the newspaper.
“We knew then history was about to be made.
“There had been a few threats before the race about being taken out in the running. It was decided to drop in at the back of the field, to stay out of trouble, and when entering the straight to go wide and have a clear passage.
“But when we came to the straight I went right into the pack, the shortest way home.
“There was a wall of horses. I was very lucky that she was such a good horse, we saw a gap and took it. It was very tight, but she burst through and the rest is history.
“I really hope Sygone will be able to complete the Triple Crown – it is very special.”
From where I was standing that wall of horses Kleintjie refers to seemed impenetrable – there was no way Island Farewell could win – but there she was streaking up to the line.
The crowd went wild – the owners, Tom and Sue Beattie, were there, with Robin, to welcome their filly in the Parade Ring. What a day!